Speaker by Various Artists

Back to the Ahi Kaa

by Leo Koziol

Am I an oxymoron? Dame Kiri said that all Maori are lazy at home on the dole. That means I'm not really Maori, right? Can a sickly brown liberal ever live up to the standards of the Hongi Snobs? Am I doomed to forever dwell on the Faux Iwi fringes?

Whanau today face the dilemma of raising tamariki in a Jihad vs. McWorld diaspora of traditional collective tikanga vs. modern atomised western life. Modern models of success are anathema to our culture — yet economic achievement is critical to our future. We must begin by examining the essentials of who we are. Where we are from. Where we grew up. Go back to the Ahi Kaa, and commence a process of reconciliation. Who am I? I am Leo Koziol, and I am from Nuhaka. Welcome to my world.

* * * *

Over the past year and a half, I've been posting discussive essays and articles on the future of Aotearoa New Zealand in the 21st Century. Given the recent inflammation of debate on national identity and race relations in our country, my decision to commence such a narrative seems remarkably prescient. At the heart of what I have been writing about is an exploration of the notion of "Sense of Place" -- the shared experience of living in a unique, remote and somewhat "alien" part of the world; New Zealand's place in the world, in particular our "identity" and "presence" in the America-driven global media matrix. The shared history of our immigrant Maori and Pakeha peoples, a shared history written on the land in blood, toil, sweat. soul and spirit.

I write from Nuhaka, the small East Coast rural settlement where I was born, and where I lived out my childhood and teen years. Nuhaka to me seems to be the nexus of the remainder of a relatively untouched and undeveloped coastal landscape fast disappearing in the northern half of Te Ika a Maui, the North Island of New Zealand. This place is special. This place is authentic.

I view this part of our land as the "Spirit Coast", stretching from depressed Opotiki, to depressed Wairoa (and perhaps on further to depressed Wairarapa). In some ways, it could be argued that economic depression in this part of the nation is what has enabled local iwi (tribes) and hapu (subtribes) to retain their identity and their soul. The cultural changes that come with economic development -- such as the presence of large amounts of foreign tourists -- are still yet to make a significant impact.

A geography of genealogy stretches the Kahungunu tribe from Mahia and Nuhaka -- the meeting place of Rongomaiwahine and Kahungunu -- down to Ahuriri (Napier) and Heretaunga (Hastings), across the Takapau plains and further onwards along the coast to Porangahou and the Wairarapa. A geographical expanse rivaled only by Ngai Tahu in the South Island (Te Wai Pounamu).

Rongomaiwahine and Kahungunu came together in the lands around Nuhaka. This is a tribal birthplace with new values that were singularly indigenous to these lands. A connection of wairua and whanaungatanga took place here that marked a shift away from the warfaring of previous tribes. The Kahungunu mantra was indeed "Make Love, Not War."

The descendants of these two eminent ancestors have intermingled, but are yet to become one. At Mahia, the people are of the Rongomaiwahine tribe which is, to my knowledge, the only tribe in Aotearoa to have an eminent female ancestor as Arikinui (chiefly) figurehead. Yet many, if not all, Rongomaiwahine people have strong Kahungunu tribal connections. Here at Nuhaka, we have a strong line of descendance from the grandson of Kahungunu, whose name was Rakaipaaka. Te Iwi o Rakaipaaka. The grandmother of Rakaipaaka was Rongomaiwahine.

To the north are strong links to the peoples of Turanganui-a-Kiwa (Gisborne), a shared waka (original canoe) in the form of Takitimu, mythically guided to Aotearoa by the whale Paikea. The waka Takitimu made its final rest at the settling place of the aforementioned southern Ngai Tahu people.

The story of Paikea was recently presented to the world on the silver screen in the internationally lauded "Whale Rider" film. The story resounded for all New Zealanders and for all Maori, but particularly so for the peoples of the East Coast. The Takitimu was a sacred waka; all its occupants from Hawaiki were Tohunga (spiritual seers), all were male, and their journey here included strong protocols of tikanga (belief systems) tapu (sacredness). Takitimu was the "wairua waka" (sacred voyager) for all the peoples of Aotearoa.

The Maori people of Aotearoa NZ now find themselves at a profound point of social change -- and possible dislocation.

As a result of the Brash-fuelled controversy over foreshore title, Maori are scapegoated as the ones with "special rights" attempting to restrict the average Kiwi from accessing beaches and coastline. Nobody is pointing out that it is foreign ownership and skyrocketing property prices that will ultimately transform our coastline and resort areas (lakes and high country) into exclusive playgrounds for the rich (mostly foreigners or wealthy immigrants). How long before coastal "gated communities" are developed across our country? It is Pakeha property tycoons like John Spencer at Waiheke who seek strongly to secure private beach access; not Maori. Not yet.

The stereotype is that Maori are lazy dole bludgers and DPB addicts. Living on the East Coast, I would be the first to readily admit that a high number of my people live such lives. But many more do not. Being on the dole is often seasonal in nature, with work on forestry, in freezing works, and in horticulture taking up a fair chunk of the year for a transitory labour force (there's also the odd bit of "under the table" work). Up until recently, local residents have had the luxury of a low cost of living to work in such a transitional manner. Skyrocketing coastal property prices threaten this, as do changes in government policy.

It is truly ironic that the recently released list of "No-Go" zones for unemployment beneficiaries includes some of our nation's most high-priced coastal localities. Take Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel. Is there likely to be a flood of dole bludgers dropping out to relocate there, what when the only beachfront sections available are in the $900,000 to $1 million mark? Where else is on the list? Let's try Pauanui and Ocean Beach.

* * * *

It is the worst of times, and it is the best of times. Dr. Brash has unfortunately created a nasty racial split in New Zealand in 2004, picked at the hardened-over (but not yet healed) scab of New Zealand race relations that last reared its ugly head during the Springbok Tour and the Bastion Point occupation. The spectre of a right-wing government that will roll back a whole series of progressive social and economic programmes is clearly apparent. This is the bad stuff, indeed.

The good stuff, is that division brings people together. There is nothing like a common enemy for people in opposition to such dire pathways to put aside their differences and work to secure the future they want to see happen.

For the Left in New Zealand, it will mean a moderating effect for relations between Labour and the Greens. Globally, the Left has been energised by a common cause: opposition to the global U.S. dictator-state lead by President George W. Bush. It is now a year since millions around the world marched in opposition to war in Iraq, in a wave of oppositional energy not seen since the heady days of 1968. The centre can hold; the centre must hold. Here in Aotearoa NZ, NZ First must make its mark as a conservative party that nevertheless recognises the fundamental place of Maori to the identity of our nation (all "treaty gravy-train"-gates aside). United Future also takes a fundamentally centric position, socially conservative but nevertheless recognising the importance of sound race relations for a sustainable social future.

Politics is 51%. Over the past decade, we have moved profoundly to a new political system in our country in the form of Proportional Representation. This system has resulted in the splintering of former political cores (Labour and National) and a shift towards a negotiation-based form of political operation. The idea of a Maori political party raised in our media this past month has a significant potential to make a real difference; to tip this political balance to the required 51% mark to secure a centre-left government in 2005; one that then must put Maori concerns at the heart of it's policies.

Ironically, Brash's race-baiting has the potential to embolden and draw together Maori visions of the future of our country. The call by Tuariki Delamere and Derek Fox to secure Maori party support from Dame Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu (The Maori Queen) and preeminent Tuwharetoa chief Sir Hepi Te Heuheu has the real potential to spur a new political movement into reality.

Demographics and cultural influence are on the side of Maori, if the existing MMP system stays in place.

Such a new political movement for Maori faces significant challenges. There will be competing visions among Maori for our economic and social development futures. Competing value sets. Should we adopt mainstream western models of economic success which promises a "McMaori" social culture and has already eroded our tikanga? Or should we all go "back to the land" and return to our traditional communities that we were pushed out of in the 1950s?

The reality is that the only option lies somewhere between these two futures.

My perspective is that western economic development models are both anathema to our communal culture, as well as ecologically and socially unsustainable in the long-term. Are Maori to become the handmaidens to a global tourism and resort elite, with only a select few of us joining the rich at the top?

I believe that Maori must base our plans for future economic development on the "real world" -- a "RealPolitik" approach according to Ngai Tahu intellectual Dr. Te Maire Tau -- but that we must also focus on securing a future that does not compromise the spirit of who we are. Our Wairua. We must begin by examining the essentials of who we are. We must commence important national dialogues on the future of our Maori people, of our place in this world, and our place in the future development of a shared nationhood.

* * * *

"Kia mura tonu nga Ahi Kaa mo te matemateaone"
Keep the home fires burning so loved ones will always return.

* * * *

I have found profound strength in returning to the Ahi Kaa. After a time traversing the world, I have come back to Nuhaka, to the birthplace of my tribe, to the homelands, to look after my whanau and my tama and live daily life among our wise kaumatua. I have found that this gives me great strength, and a secure sense of identity.

Coming back to New Zealand was as much a "return to the Ahi Kaa" as coming back to Nuhaka. Living here, you immerse yourself daily in the nation's media, in daily life and experience, and in shared social mores. You travel the roads that all others travel, experience the landscapes that all other see and the elements that all others feel.

This gives us strength. This is what makes us truly unique. Place matters.

The challenge for Maori is to harness the power of their iwi, hapu and whanau ahi kaa identity, and marry this to a sense of Aotearoa ahi kaa identity. Aotearoa New Zealand's unique and authentic place in the world.

The challenge is to envision this future, and then set about creating the world we want to see happen. The challenge – for Pakeha as well as Maori – is to Envision Aotearoa.


Ahi Kaa: The "home fires", the homelands. "Yeah cuz, the putea's a bit erratic out here on the coast and I've thought about goin' back to the Big Smoke, but somebody's gotta keep the Ahi Kaa burning, ya know?"

Faux Iwi: Pakeha who want to be Maori, highly supportive of and well educated about Te Tiriti. Often spotted wearing taonga (greenstone pendants). "Russell looked all faux iwi pro at the barbie, decked out in his oversized Pasifika print shirt matched with oversized taonga and authentic Huffer jandals."

Hongi Snob: Maori establishment, often endeared to British titles and in positions of important power within Maoridom. "Dame Huia greeted the Governor General with such grace and charm, her hongi snob deportment told you who was really in charge. She was."

Putea: Money. As in, "Show me the Putea

This post originally appeared here on ahikaa.com, which gathers all the writings of Leo Koziol under the banner Naked in Nuhaka.